Reprimand at the Moment or Look for a Teachable Moment?

If you lead people in any way … in a church, a business, or a team, those you lead will screw up, fail, and often disappoint you. When that happens, and that employee or team member needs correction, when is the best time to correct?

In the past, when a staff person who reported to me made a mistake, I tended to be ‘quick on the draw’ to point out the mistake or poor judgement.

But is that the best approach?

Several years ago I dialogued with a psychologist with expertise in leadership. I asked him for advice about an issue when I felt that a staff person who reported to me was totally off-base in his response to a particular situation. My emotions ranged from shock to surprise to disappointment and finally to anger. My carnality wanted to blast this guy and let him know how wrong he was.

My psychologist friend just listened as I processed. After I finished my ranting, he asked me this question.

Why do you want to say these strong things to this person?

As I mulled over his question, I had to admit that I probably wanted to exert my authority to make him feel ‘guilty’ for being ‘wrong.’ My desire to reprimand was ME focused. When I forced myself to evaluate my motive and heard my words that tumbled out, I realized that my motive was very wrong.

He made two suggestions.

  • Don’t bring up the issue until I and the other guy had cooled down.
  • Then, bring up the issue in the context of a teachable moment, a moment in the other guy’s life when what I say would come across as a way to boost his leadership ability, rather than be perceived simply as a reprimand.

This simple insight has helped me maximize learning in my staff when they make a mistake.

How do you deal with your staff when they mess up?

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